Interview: Stacia-Al Mahoe Talks Competing In Both Weightlifting and Powerlifting

One of the great things about competitive strength sports is that they can create opportunities for athletes to train and possibly be successful in more than their one sport of choice. For example, you could see a weightlifter compete it powerlifting, a functional fitness athlete also compete in weightlifting, and so forth.

In fact, it’s not incredibly uncommon to see athletes compete in more than one strength sport. Consider Chen-Wei Ling, an athlete who excelled at the highest levels in both weightlifting and powerlifting, along with 2017 Reebok CrossFit Games Champion Tia-Clair Toomey, who also competed in weightlifting at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics.

And often, it’s very feasible to do so with the right training, mindset, and understanding of the every sport’s differences. Staciai-Al Mahoe, a Fifty Barbell athlete, is no stranger to being successful at both sports, she competes in powerlifting at 47kg and weightlifting at 48kg.

[What does professional powerlifter and record holder Ben Pollack think about weightlifting?] 

After seeing her set two all time records at the Reebok Record Breakers powerlifting meet in mid-November, and her success at a recent weightlifting meet, I wanted to learn more about what got her into both sports, and what it takes to be successful at both.

Boly: You compete in both powerlifting and weightlifting, which did you get into first?

Mahoe: I got into powerlifting first (2013), although I’ve always done Olympic lifting movements in training, I didn’t enter a weightlifting meet until 2016.

Boly: What was the final straw that made you decide to pursue a second strength sport?

Mahoe: It was always the plan from the beginning to enter as many sports as possible, we just had sponsors and other commitments we had to get done before entering our first Oly meet. The reason is because why just do one sport if you can do multiple. We have a program here that prepares us to do multiple sports all year long and I want to take advantage of that.

Boly: Have you learned that one sport is easier to compete in more frequently compared to the other? If so, why do you think that is?

Mahoe: Weightlifting is easier to do more frequently because although you’re maxing a lift, it is not your body’s full all out maximum potential. For example, my max clean & jerk is 200lbs, but my front squat is 260lbs. It’s not as taxing on the body as an all out max lift being that it relies on technique more than an all out max.

Whereas a max deadlift is all you have and takes way more out of you than a max clean & jerk (in most cases). For instance, after a max deadlift in a meet my deadlift numbers will go down for 3 weeks after.

Boly: When prepping for a meet in both powerlifting and weightlifting, how much time do you put into your prep? And how do you split the amount of comps you do per sport?

Mahoe: In our gym & in our program we train the same way all year long, so if a meet pops up unexpectedly in 2 weeks, we’d be ready to enter at any time. Our program is based on a Westside template, which means being ready all year long for anything. We train for everyday strength, not peaks.

Peaking is way to inconsistently chase. I try to do every local comp I can for both weightlifting and powerlifting. But I travel for powerlifting meets more than I do for weightlifting, only because I’m not trying to go to the Olympics anytime soon and powerlifting is my main sport.

Boly: Ah, gotcha, so throughout the year how much of your training is focused powerlifting, and how much is weightlifting?

Mahoe: My training is mostly powerlifting work and accessories to build absolute strength. Once a week I do snatch technique/whatever feels good that day. I only clean & jerk heavy two times 1-2 weeks out from of an Oly Meet. Personally, I can go months without doing heavy clean & jerks. Other than that I do light snatches or cleans in my conditioning.

Boly: What’s the toughest lift for you to improve upon in each sport, and does this somewhat influence how you train in both powerlifting & weightlifting? I know you talked training earlier, but if something like the snatch is slow to progress, do you do anything in your powerlifting training for it?

Mahoe: Toughest lift for me is probably my snatch, but it’s a complete mental thing not a strength thing, so it doesn’t influence or change any of my training.

In powerlifting, my bench was the toughest for a while because I would always mis-groove the bar in competition. My coach and I took a big risk and changed my technique three weeks out from my biggest meet of the year. And during training I just concentrated on technique and it paid off.

Boly: Do you have any tips on how can an athlete determine what training amounts are right for them? If they compete more in powerlifting, should they train more with a powerlifting focus, vice versa for weightlifting?

Mahoe: If you compete equally in each, then I believe you should train everything all the time like we do, so no matter what you’ll be ready for anything. But it needs to be smart and not in a way that you get injured. I believe the program that my coach, Jack Cambra, has come up with, is the perfect balance between powerlifting, oly lifting, conditioning, and muscle balancing work.

Boly: In your opinion, what are two of the main differences between competing in these two sports?

Mahoe: The main difference between powerlifting and Oly lifting is the duration of the meets. Training for me is the same for both pretty much. My mindset is more relaxed when it comes to Oly lifting because it’s 2 lifts, 6 attempts, and you could be done within 2 hours. The meets go by faster than powerlifting meets and it’s fun.

Powerlifting meets are way longer than Oly meets and can get boring which makes it harder to stay focused. In powerlifting, if you miss a lift you’ll have anywhere from 10-20 minutes to be mad, cry, or be upset until your next lift. Where in a Oly meet if you miss a lift and you are taking the same weight again you have 2 minutes to get your head straight and try for that weight again, no crying, no breaks, no time to be upset, you just have to attack.

Boly: If someone is considering trying a new strength sport after competing in one, what should they take into consideration? Should they make their prep longer for this scenario?

Mahoe: If someone is considering trying out a new strength sport after competing in one, then they need to keep in mind that you might not jump into the other sport and be fantastic at it your first try. They should get a good coach, get taught proper form, learn all the rules of said sport, and work on the movement(s) for a while before jumping into a meet.

For example if a powerlifter is going into Oly lifting, they need to keep in mind how technical Oly lifts are and they might not be able to do as much weight as they think they “should” be able to do right away just because they’re strong in powerlifting. Ego can be the biggest problem for athletes trying a new sport.

Boly: Do you have any training tips for dual strength sport athletes? Things you’ve noticed from competing in both, and pitfalls to avoid.

Mahoe: Number one is injury prevention, do your best to avoid getting hurt, if you get hurt you can’t train. Second would be concentrating on absolute strength. If you’re a strength athlete being strong is the most important thing. Third, make sure a movement that you’re doing in one sport doesn’t hurt a movement in the other sport. For example, a bench press can destroy your rack position, and a low-bar squat can destroy your catch position. So make sure all your techniques feed each other positively and always work to stay mobile.

Pitfall to avoid: DON’T BE A DICK. Sometimes people who do well in their first sport take up a second sport and act like they should automatically be known and be good in that sport also. Which leads to unrealistic attempts, bad meets, and sometimes bombing out. Respect the sport. If you’re going into a new sport have the respect to know some of its history that has made it what it is. Stay balanced, listen to your body, have fun, and remember, don’t be a dick!

Boly: In terms of diet, does it differ when you’re training and prepping for each type of meet?

Mahoe: I don’t really diet, but I have be aware of what I eat two weeks out of a meet. Eating bread or cereal will make my weight go up 2lbs and because I walk around at my weight classes it could be the difference between cutting and not cutting.

Some things I do a week out are things like upping my water intake, drinking prune juice to clean out my system, and eat asparagus because of its diuretic effect. But other than that, a well done waffle or a crepe with bananas, whipped cream, chocolate syrup, & vanilla ice cream is great.

Boly: Thank you so much for the time and the insights!

Feature image screenshot from @ii.am.legend.01 Instagram page. 

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Jake holds a Master's in Sports Science and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Jake serves as one of the full time writers and editors at BarBend. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and has spoken at state conferences on the topics of writing in the fitness industry and building a brand. As of right now, Jake has published over 1,100 articles related to strength athletes and sports. Articles about powerlifting concepts, advanced strength & conditioning methods, and topics that sit atop a strong science foundation are Jake's bread-and-butter. On top of his personal writing, Jake edits and plans content for 15 writers and strength coaches who come from every strength sport.Prior to BarBend, Jake worked for two years as a strength and conditioning coach for hockey and lacrosse players, and was a writer at the Vitamin Shoppe's corporate office. Jake regularly competes in powerlifting in the 181 lb weight class, and considers himself a weightlifting shoe sneaker head. On the side of writing full time, Jake works as a part-time strength coach and works with clients through his personal business Concrete Athletics in Hoboken and New York City.